Electoral Act: Presidency intensifies lobby to defeat NA vote to override veto

President Muhammad Buhari

March 5, 2018

Two weeks after the transmission of the amended Electoral Act to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent, the presidency has intensified efforts to defeat any plans by the National Assembly to override the anticipated presidential veto of the Act.

The lobby is intended to ensure that the required two-thirds majority votes of the 469 federal lawmakers, comprising 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives, is not secured.

This is just as a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has dragged the federal legislature to court in Enugu challenging the Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly altering the election sequence.

The lawmakers on February 14 had voted in both legislative houses to change the sequencing of general elections for the presidential election to be conducted last, instead of first, as is the current practice.

The amendment, which is expected to weaken the bandwagon effect of presidential elections on the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, has allegedly not been well received by President Muhammadu Buhari, who believes it is targeted at weakening him in the 2019 presidential polls.

It is therefore widely anticipated that the president would withhold his assent to the amendment of Section 25 of the Electoral Act, which provides for the National Assembly elections to be conducted first, followed by the governorship and state assemblies, while the presidential poll will be conducted last, all on separate days.

The president, who is required to give reasons for withholding his assent to any bill, is expected to state that the amendment to the Electoral Act, is in conflict with Sections 76(1), 132(1) and 178(1) of the Constitution, which specifically empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to set the dates for the elections into the National Assembly, Office of Governor, and President.

The Senate and House spokespersons, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi and Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas have, however, indicated the readiness of both legislatures to override the president, if he declines assent.

The president, according to Section 58(4) of the Constitution, has 30 days, from the time a bill is presented to him, to give assent or indicate that he is withholding his assent.

Section 58(5), however, provides that “where the president withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by both Houses by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the president shall not be required”.

THISDAY reports that the backlash that followed some of the lawmakers, who vocally criticised the amendment of the Electoral Act in the Senate, was also worrisome for the presidency, as the lobby was expected to be more successful in the Senate as opposed to the House where the amendment originated from.

Senator Adamu Abdullahi was suddenly removed as chairman of the influential Northern Senators’ Forum, while Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was mandated to appear before the Committee on Ethics and Privileges over his comments that the amendment was targeted at the president.

Lawmakers who spoke with THISDAY off record at the weekend, however, believe that the requisite two-thirds votes would be secured, despite the efforts of the presidency.

“It is two-thirds of the 469 that is required, not two-thirds of each chamber. So it is possible. We would simply call a joint session. It has been done before when the legislature overrode the veto of the President Olusegun Obasanjo on the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) Bill in year 2000,” a lawmaker explained.

“It is likely to pass as long as the House of Representatives is in support of overriding the veto. And this current House is willing, I can assure you.

“Many of the members are really angry and they have reasons to be. So, even if we are unable to get many Senators on board, as we expect the EFCC to go after some senators in the coming days over past corruption cases when they were governors, we will get to override the veto,” he said.

The lawmaker further pointed out that the opposition to the president was not really about the Electoral Act, but about his perceived hostility to the legislature and his manner of governance generally.

A lawmaker from one of the North-central states also disclosed that chieftains of the APC were being enlisted to lobby their “people” in both legislative chambers.

“Unfortunately for those (chieftains) deployed from our area, the president has lost the confidence of North-central zone. The manner he has handled the Benue killings and attacks by herdsmen in other states, show that he is isolated from reality. Defeating his veto on any bill, not just the Electoral Act, would show him that he has no base in this parliament, which he does not have good relations with anyway.

“He has refused to release the zonal intervention funds, which has killed the re-election bid of some lawmakers in 2019. So such lawmakers already know they have nothing to lose,” he said.

Another lawmaker from the North-west explained that the president has remained aloof in the face of governors on the platform of the party battling federal lawmakers from their states, and has refused to intervene in several internal crises which had deeply polarised the party.

“If he asks my state governor to speak to me and the other members, how can that work when we do not see eye to eye. There is hardly any APC state where the party is not in disarray, how would any emergency fence mending work?” the lawmaker wondered.

Another lawmaker added that the gloves were completely off in the hostile relations between the two arms of government, then proceeded to enumerate the missteps of the president.

“We told the president to call his overzealous and disrespectful aides to order, yet there was no action; we refused to confirm someone, yet no action; we asked for constituency funds, that one is a tussle completely ignored. We are tired of this hot and cold relationship, it is enough.

“We were elected by our people, not by the president. So, when they try to remind us that some people here (in the legislature) rode on the back of the president in the 2015 APC tsunami, we tell them it is not necessarily a bad thing for everyone to independently test his popularity. It is better for our democracy,” he said.


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